"I'm not going to lie to you. I didn't want to sit through one of these long, boring media lunches," Mr. Freston, the 2006 Center for Communications honoree, told the crowd. "I've got to tell you, it really cuts into my free time." Last year's recipient of the award was Time Warner CEO Richard Parsons.
"I've really been enjoying these last few weeks of unplanned vacation," he said. "It's given me the time and the freedom to do something I didn't have time to do before: to devise my own personal digital-media strategy."
He started by buying a computer, and so now he was "swimming the web."
He predicted that MySpace would be big one day, and then revealed his own page, which featured friends including other former Viacom executives, such as "Bed Bath and Biondi," a reference to Frank Biondi, a former Viacom CEO, and Gunga Dan, aka former CBS anchor Dan Rather. His e-mail address? firstname.lastname@example.org.
The incessant jokes about MySpace were all the more poignant given that it was the primary reason cited for Mr. Freston's surprise ouster from the company he helped to build. Both Viacom and News Corp. had made bids to acquire the social-networking site, but News Corp. prevailed and watched the site turn into a cultural phenomenon. Mr. Freston exited Viacom with almost $60 million and additional money that could be worth $84.8 million.
Mr. Freston, whose speech drew applause and two standing ovations from the audience, which included News Corp. Chairman Rupert Murdoch, Warner Music Group CEO Edgar Bronfman Jr., CBS Corp.'s Leslie Moonves, movie producer Brian Grazer and Weinstein Cos.' Harvey Weinstein.
News Corp. President-Chief Operating Officer Peter Chernin opened Mr. Freston's roasting by telling the crowd, "I don't think Viacom treated Tom fairly, after influencing pop culture for decades. But enough about Tom Cruise. We're here to talk about Tom Freston. Tom Freston is an a**hole." He later added: "How can you roast someone who is already toast?"
Former colleague and MTV CEO Judy McGrath, whom Mr. Freston referred to as the "keeper of the flame," joked about the size of Tom's "package." She explained Viacom was worth $5 when Mr. Freston joined more than 20 years ago and was worth $40 billion on his departure. She presented a video featuring another of Mr. Freston's friends, U2 front man Bono, who said his pal wove cultures together, a reference to the role he played in rolling out MTV from India to China.
The most moving part of the two-hour lunch at the Pierre Hotel in New York was a self-produced video of the 60-year-old former Viacom CEO singing Daniel Powter's "Bad Day," complete with dancing and brooding, wearing in a New York Yankees cap and strumming a guitar in his bedroom.
Mr. Freston's voice wavered at the end of the speech, where he thanked people for their emotional outpourings and that it was comforting to be surrounded by so many "sweet people."
When asked by Watercooler if he would've done anything differently, he said: "Yeah, I'd have spent more time at the office."